WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's grandkids say anyone who wants to take a crack at their “Pop” has to go through them first. When Biden calls to check in, he doesn't stop with one grandchild but ends up dialing all of them for updates. Even son Hunter Biden gets a nightly call from Biden.
Biden’s big Irish American family has been a prominent part of the White House scene during his first 100 days in office, with his wife, children and grandchildren providing the grounding that people close to the president say has served Biden during nearly a half century of public service.
“Anyone who wants to get to @JoeBiden will have to get past us first,” says the caption on a photo granddaughter Naomi Biden tweeted of herself, her sisters and cousins. She added emojis of a flexed bicep, a high voltage sign, a fist and a winking face with a stuck-out tongue.
During a family getaway to the Camp David retreat in Maryland over Presidents' Day weekend, she tweeted photos of Biden wearing a tan cap they bought him. The front of the cap sported the presidential seal. The back was inscribed with “Pop" — “just to make sure the job title doesn't get to his head,” she wrote.
Biden was shaped in part by the loss of his first wife, Neilia, and their baby, Naomi, in a 1972 car accident in Delaware after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate. The accident also injured sons Hunter, 3, and Beau, 4. The loss was compounded by Beau's death from brain cancer in 2015.
The president and his second wife, Jill, also have a daughter, Ashley, 39.
“Joe and Jill Biden are incredibly close to their children and their grandchildren,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who has known the president for decades. “Having lost Beau, in what was a great tragedy in their lives, has made them even more intensely close to both children and more determined to be good grandparents.”
The Bidens “have a sense of joy and of open-heartedness that comes even more abundantly clear when they're in the presence of their grandchildren," Coons said.
The grandchildren include: Naomi Biden, 27, an attorney in Washington; and sisters Finnegan Biden, 22, and Maisy Biden, 20, both in college. Their father, 51-year-old Hunter Biden, lives in California with his second wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, and their 1-year-old son, Beau.
The late Beau Biden's kids are Natalie, 16, and her brother, “little Hunter,” who is 15. The president's two sons were so close that they named their own sons after each other.
Ashley Biden, a social worker, is married to doctor Howard Krein. They have no children.
Biden credits Jill Biden, his wife of nearly 44 years, with making his family whole again. They married in 1977, five years after the death of his first wife and daughter, though he had to propose five times before she finally accepted.
She is the first first lady who didn't give up her career. She's taught English at community college for many years, and teaches virtually from the White House, or hotels when she travels.
Biden returns to his home in Delaware most weekends so he and the first lady can spend time with their children and grandchildren.
He took grandkids on trips when he was vice president, and on campaign stops last year. Baby Beau has already flown aboard the Marine One presidential helicopter to Camp David.
Other grandchildren go with him to St. Joseph on the Brandywine, the Roman Catholic church where he worships in Delaware. The family recently gathered there for the confirmation of young Hunter Biden. The president lingered outside after Mass, chatting with family and posing for photos with other congregants before he spent several hours at the teenager's home.
Biden "likes to spend time with family and loved ones, and take a moment to take a breath, just like most people across the country do, when he has the limited amount of free time you have as leader of the free world,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Hunter Biden, who recently wrote a book about overcoming his drug and alcohol addiction, says he and his dad still talk every night. He also has a “healthy fear” of relapsing yet again.
“It’s too much a part of my story,” Hunter Biden told NPR. “I’m only one choice away from being back exactly where I was. And that’s the conundrum for everyone that’s in recovery. It never goes away. It only hides.”
Biden talks to his grandkids a lot, too. They were among those who encouraged him to run for president after two earlier failed efforts.
“He literally calls, not just like one of us every few days. He calls me, then he calls Naomi, then he calls Finn, then he calls Natalie, then he calls Ashley,” Maisy Biden told NBC’s “Today” during an interview with her sisters, cousins and aunt before Biden’s inauguration.
The kids call Biden, too.
“We have a rule, still, you know, today, that no matter where dad is, no matter what meeting he’s in, if one of the kids call you have to get him out,” Ashley Biden told “Today.”
“He's just up and answering that call," Coons added. “That sort of presence, that sort of engagement is an important part of how he stays connected to his family.”
Biden has encouraged his staff to prioritize their own families, too, and to not miss kid sports games or special occasions to stay at their desks to work for him.
“It runs deep with him,” said Ted Kaufman, Biden’s longtime Senate chief of staff and political adviser. “He basically wants the standards for the staff, for the people around him, to be the same standards he has.”
Biden has expressed feeling homesick at times as he adjusts to White House life, said an aide granted anonymity to disclose private conversations with the president, which partly explains his regular weekend trips back to his longtime home in Delaware.
At the White House, Biden has a household staff that attends to and tries to anticipate his every need, and Secret Service agents who follow him everywhere — including inside the White House.
Biden, 78, also has a sister, Valerie Biden Owens, who managed his Senate and earlier presidential campaigns, and brothers Francis and James. Their parents are deceased.
Jonathan Russ, a University of Delaware history professor, said other presidents have been close to their families, but that Biden’s emphasis on his own family is “relatively unique.”
“This is such a part of his being, the fact that he talks and shares anecdotes about his parents or children, about his grandchildren,” Russ said. “I think that that’s something that you don’t see throughout American history. And I think people find it quite refreshing that here is somebody who does place great value” on his family.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.